Due to the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs and their homes, leading many families into unsheltered homelessness. Organizers with the Coalition on Homelessness (COH) have been reaching out to vehicularly housed folks who live on Winston Street and Lake Merced Boulevard next to San Francisco State University, aiming to provide support and permanent solutions to people living in RVs. Vehicularly housed residents told the COH that they face several daily challenges, including a lack of access to drinking water, difficulty dumping and clearing their wastewater tanks, unending fears of being hit by a car and the recurring dread of street cleaning every Tuesday at 6:45 a.m.
On street cleaning day, these residents have to move their RVs to avoid being ticketed. Many began to park at the nearby Stonestown Galleria mall in front of McDonald’s for approximately 20 minutes, allowing them to go back before they lost their parking space. After a few weeks, mall security told RV dwellers that they don’t have the right to park there, even though they had bought food, because the vehicles were too large. Once, the mall even called the police to evict them from the parking lot.
Carlos Wadkins, a COH human rights organizer, met with the mall’s head of security and the property manager this summer to advocate for folks to be able to use the spaces, and the mall agreed to let residents park for 20 minutes as long as they buy some food from McDonald’s. Last month, COH launched a fundraiser to buy breakfast for these vehicularly housed folks, so that every single family that needs to park during street cleaning can do so for the next two months—and maybe just as importantly, have community support.
“Something as simple as buying folks a McDonald’s breakfast once a week can seem relatively insignificant, but the stability of being able to safely make way for street cleaning every week without being harassed by security or police is really important,” said Wadkins. “It was really heartening to see so many people contribute to allow us to help provide that stability.”
Maria, one of the RV dwellers in this neighborhood, told us how challenging it has been to live on the streets during this pandemic without any support. The mother of two children, 6 and 9 years old, told us how hard it is when her daughter repeatedly asks when they are coming back home, because she is tired of camping every day.
For the time being, while RV dwellers like Maria are organizing to protect their rights, at least they have a place to park on street cleaning day.